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Cotu tomb house - a proof of richness and diversity in Vietnamese culture
Updated on 2/17/2006 at 21:31

(CPV) - The Cotu tomb house, which was inaugurated on February 17th at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, will help visitor understand more about the richness and diversity of the cultures of Vietnamese ethnic groups. With the help of his family and villager, Mr. Briu Nga from the Alieng village, Ating commune, Dong Giang district, the central province of Quang Nam reconstructed the house based on the model he had made for his father-in-law in 1996. The tomb was completed in 2005, with the support from the Swedish-Vietnamese Fund for Cultural Promotion. * Design and decoration of the Cotu tomb house The house is an original feature of the Cotu cultural heritage. It not only reflects the social aspects and traditional beliefs of the Cotu about the afterworld of the deceased’s spirit, but also manifests in a strong and special way the traditional wooden graphic arts and decorative designs of Cotu people. In addition, it closely relates to the biggest ritual in the Cotu funeral ceremonies and bears both tangible and intangible cultural values of an ethnic people. However, since the last tens of years, this type of tomb house has been rarely observed in the Cotu region and there is a very few people knowing how to decorate and do the sculpture for the tomb house. The traditional tomb is call pinh blang in Cotu language. It is built for rich people. The tomb is 2.55 metres in height, 4.85 metres in length and 3.25 metres in width. The wooden tomb has an apexed roof. According to tradition, one roof faces the east and the other faces the west. Each tomb can contain four or five dead bodies from within a family. The family grows rice, corn, bananas or sugar cane around the tomb as gifts for the dead. Carving and painting contribute to the rich and diverse decorations on the tomb as well as objects displayed inside it. Carved figures, such as water buffalo heads, dragons, snakes, iguanas, tring birds and fern leaves are reknown designs of the Cotu. Additionally, sitting figures with their hands on their cheeks, are characteristic decorations of the Central Highland tombs. Geometric motifs appear in the shape of the "moc" leaves, which are usually called by anthropologists "four petaled flowers." The house is made from a trunk of a 1 metre diameter tree. Similar to the coffin, this wooden case has a base and a lid. In the tomb, each body is placed within one of these traditional cases, which is displayed in a hole or the ground. The head of the dead is

positioned to the east and the feet to the west, where two carved buffalo heads extend from the roof. The bier is used to carry the corpse from their home to the graveyard and is only made when a member of the family is about to die. The shelf is used to display rice, wine and other offerings to the dead and is carried by two men. One man symbolizes the living person, pushing the shelf forward, while the other, the "ghost", pushing the shelf backward. The scene conveys the message that the spirit of the dead does not want to leave the family and the village. * Cotu ethnic group in Vietnam There are more than 50,000 Cotu ethnic people in Vietnam, whose ancestors were settled long ago to the northeast of central Quang Nam province and to the southeast of central Thua Thien Hue province. Belonging to the Austro-Asiatic language family, their traditional agricultural practices employ a cyclic shifting agriculture approach. They practise a patrilineal system and share cultural similarities with the Taoi and the Bru-Van Kieu peole, who also live in the central mountainous areas in Indochina. In the Cotu village, the houses on stilts are set out in the form of an ellipse. In the middle ofthe village is the rong (communal house), a large and beautiful building which towers over all the other dwellings. This house is the place for reception of guests, to hold meetings, rituals and cultural performances. It is also here that the elders spend most of their time recounting their memories. Cotu attire is simple. Men wear loincloths and leave their upper torsos naked. Women wear skirts and short vests. In winter they wear a piece of cloth. The popular ornaments comprise necklaces, bracelets and earrings. The traditional customs such as tattooing face and body, filing teeth and men wearing their hair long tied in a chignon have gradually declined. Every year, the Cotu hold big and small rituals worshipping genies to pray for good luck and health and especially bumper crops. The rituals are held mainly by each family and some big rites are held by whole people of the village, in particular the buffalostabbing rite.

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